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Federal infrastructure dollars reach Oglala Dam in Pine Ridge

C.J. Keene

Federal infrastructure dollars are making their way to the Pine Ridge Reservation. This money will go toward the Oglala Dam, which has been out of commission for some time.

The dam failed about 5 years ago. Representatives from the Interior Department were on hand Tuesday to break ground on the new development.

Bryan Newland is the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs. He explained the problem at the dam.

“This dam is an earthen dam, which means it’s built with dirt and grass and rocks essentially," Newland said. "If you don’t have the money to maintain it properly on a consistent basis it’s going to get to that point where it’s not functional anymore, and that’s really what happened over many, many years. Now what we’re doing is making some upgrades to make this dam last longer and be safer.”

Putting the dam back into use will help mitigate floods in lower-elevation communities and rebuild the lake ecosystem in the area.

Newland said it’s an example of real investment in reservations from the Biden administration.

“This is a perfect example of the commitment," Newland said. "This is not just mouthing the words ‘trust, responsibility, or commitments to tribes.’ We’re putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to things like this. Serving all Americans including American Indian people, tribes and communities that are so often overlooked.”

Local tribal representatives on hand were happy to see real steps being taken. That includes water resources director Reno Red Cloud.

“It’s an exciting time today with the spillway dedication," Red Cloud said. "We can see that there’s improvements coming to our tribe. It’s an improvement for us to move forward for another 60-70 years.”

The dam was first built in the 1940s and was taken out of commission following a severe flood.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture